VIDEO ART: Ghost of Asia

Daniel Shawna Shi Yin

“Ghost of Asia”
Christelle Lheureux, Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Ghost of Asia is a celebration of living and of pleasures. Made right after the 2004 tsunami that killed thousands of Thais, the filmmakers imagine a ghost who still lives and wanders around the seashores. At a Thai island, they engage in conversation with children – two boys and a girl- that dictate tasks to be performed by an actor. The film is structured according to the kids’ real-time direction pattern. The actor became their simulated life, their projection of possible things one can do.

Significance of using children as ‘dictators': Children are more spontaneous, expressive, and uninhibited- their imagination is also more vivid, and hence, they are able to generate more possibilities. This falls in place with the spirit of the film that attempts to depict and suggest what could have been.

another possible interpretation of the film – suggested by CHARISSE (HELLO!!)

the manner in which the children dictates the actions of the ghost seems to bring up the whole idea of control. The man seems to be extremely subordinate to the demands of the children who seem to just be carelessly throwing out any random thoughts and orders in their head. The sped up nature of the film only enhances the flustered and hasty manner in which he rushes to do as he is told. Charisse thinks that this might be a reflection of the general nature of video art and how it is filmed, whereby the actors are subject to the orders and demands of the filmmaker/ artist.

1. What essentially characterised Video art?

  • Added dimension of time
  • Sound (soundtrack etc)
  • Not necessarily following a specific narrative or plot; can be used simply to illustrate a certain concept of the artists’
  • Temporal, intangible state: video art is essentially viewed through the medium light, which is transient
  • Reproducible; the same work of art can be at many locations at the same time
  • Associated with the television and hence the concept of entertainment, usually made accessible to a mass audience
  • also highly dependent on certain conditions to exist; for example electricity. this relates strongly to the human condition and the transiency of life.

2. What advantage does video offers over other representation art forms?

  • ‘Authenticity’. Video art can be an extremely literal form of art that projects real life images to the audience. In other words, its form of representation can mimic exactly what reality looks like. In this instance, the audience are confronted with a situation made up of actual people leading their lives in this existing land (thailand). Its rawness, lack of scripting (children were left in their natural environment eg. sitting in the dirt, saying things freely as they came to them) and low-bit quality (another element of film-making) further contribute to sincerity of this film.
  • Video art is able to engage a wider range of senses like sound, making a greater impact on the audience. Manipulation of music and time that creates certain special effect on the audience (eg. CGI) In the case of this particular piece, each of these elements play a significant role in enhancing it’s ‘ghostly feel. The eerie sounds produced by electronic music are incorporated to create an otherwordly ambience, and the insistence of sped up visuals give an indication to the viewer that there is something warped about the sense of time, and subsequently, unnatural about the entire set up. These aspects of filmmaking are cleverly utilised by Christelle Lheureux and Apichatpong Weerasethakul to add that surrealistic edge to their piece, tying in with their aim of creating a work that points out exactly the possibilities that could have been, but were never fully materialized in reality. Just as the word “ghost” in the title suggests, the main subject of their video art is in fact only half-existing and never fully concrete.
  • Images in video art can also be distorted (for example using magnets, or by projecting the image in a size different from that seen in reality)
  • Bizarre juxtaposition of various images and scenarios: (children in real time and ‘ghost’ in non-real time) adding on to surrealistic mood of the film
  • Also, in video art, two different clips can be played simultaenously to create a unique relationship that further contributes to the meaning of the work. In this case, the film in which the children dictate the ghost and the film in which the ghost carries out his orders are played seperately, in a manner whereby both clips have a dialogue with each other in that the children are controlling the actions of the ghost and are hence “directing” the other film.
  • the set-up and use of space in video art also allows the artist to decide how he wants his work to be viewed, and this in turn influences our understanding and perception of the work. For example, the films were projected onto two large screens opposite of one another, with a comfortable mattress laid in between the space filled with pillows.

Liu Kang

Daniel Shawna Shi Yin

1. Show evidences that Liu Kang was influenced by Gauguin and Matisse

We cannot possibly ask Liu Kang to confirm whether or not Gauguin and Matisse were the primary influences that shaped his works and painting style; this subconscious influence may not even be something he realised when he was alive. We can, however, compare the works done by the different artists. In doing so, we may notice many striking similarities between their styles, and hence speculate how Gauguin and Matisse may have affected Liu Kang’s works.

Liu Kang

selected artwork for discussionLiu Kang's "Life by the River"

Paul Gauguin

The Yellow Christ

  • Exotic subject matter; Gauguin painted many painting depicting the culture and life of the people of Tahiti – this parallels Liu Kang’s visit to Bali and his interest in Balinese culture and tradition. Both artists seem to exhibit a similar fondness for the primitive and natural. This is reflected in the preferred subject matter of their paintings, which mainly consist of the local natives as well as the scenery.
  • Post-Impressionist style brushstrokes; Liu Kang’s brushstrokes were sometimes very sketchy, like the rough, short strokes that Gauguin employed.
  • Non-naturalistic use of colour; “The Yellow Christ”, where the painting is given an exaggerated yellow tint that is non-reflective of the naturalistic world. Similarly, the colours used in Liu Kang’s painting are much darker and intense than what we can observe of mountains in real life. For example, deep shades of green and blue are used to depict the water and vegetation.This invokes a greater emotional response in the viewers as it creates a more intense atmosphere whereby the different elements of the picture such as the flowing of the river and the majesty and scale of the mountains are all heightened.
  • Forms and details are also simplified, and to a certain extent, abstracted, much like in the manner of Gauguin, who sought to capture the spirituality and intangible qualities of the subject matter he painted. Although the figures of both painters are largely recognisable and representative of the human form, they are somewhat distorted and simplified, perhaps to capture the sense of primitivism that both artists valued.

Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse and Liu Kang comparisonThe Dance

  • Style of rendering figures; like Matisse, Liu Kang painted figures with exaggerated arms and legs, placing much emphasis on the curves of human muscle. This is done through the use of bold, curved lines which accentuates the human form whilst simultaenously simplifying it. Faces are also painted in a very characteristic and stylised manner. See the above comparison whereby features are reduced to simple, single-coloured lines.
  • Flat painting style; little or no shadows were used, giving the figures a very flat effect. See “The Dance”, where a single colour, beige is used to depict the entire figure. Similarly, in Liu Kang’s work, the women are all depicted in a uniform olive tone with little to no variation in tones.
  • Coloured outlines; both artists employed the use of outlines to distinguish the forms in the painting, but avoided the use of black, painting the outlines with colours like brown and blue. Both artists valued the expressive value of colour a lot, as seen from the vibrant colours used in their paintings.

Traditional Chinese Art

example of Chinese painting
  • Aerial perspective; traditional “scroll-like” composition and perspective.
  • Landscape and nature as subject matter; Liu Kang often included mountains and scenery.  There was less focus on the subject, but more on the relationship between the subject and his/her environment.

LIU KANG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The above painting is ‘Artist and Model’ (above) by Liu Kang, it is painted in 1954 after the Bali trip in 1952 with fellow pioneer Nanyang artists. This painting is said to be painted based on sketches done during the trip.

There are influences and painting techniques that can be compared against Matisse and Gaugin, there are also influences from Eastern art with the white outlines of batik painting and the single-brushstroke of Chinese painting.

The painting ‘Artist and Model’ can be compared against ‘Harmony in Red’ (below) by Matisse

SIMILARITIES

  • Flat blocks of colours
  • Simple decorative motifs and symbols
  • Simplified forms (especially for the figures and the depiction of nature)
  • Bright vibrant and exaggerated colours
  • Perspective is similar, there is no demarkation of foreground and background, painting is flat

DIFFERENCES

  • Liu Kang’s painting is a reflection of the Balinese culture, and there’s a unique fusion of both Eastern and Western art influences, which brings about the Nanyang Art movement.
  • Liu Kang uses white bold outlines, while there is minimal outline in Matisse’s work

There are also similarities with Gauguin’s ‘Yellow Christ’ (above) and ‘Artist and Model':
  • Simplified figures and forms
  • Flat blocks of unnatural colour tones
  • Reflection of culture and tradition
Influences from Eastern art:

Batik (above), the inspiration for the white/blank outlines

Chinese Painting (above), single-brushstroke techniques

Sean Yongxin Jonathan

DAN GRAHAM: “Present Continuous Past(s)”

“Present Continuous Past(s)” by Dan Graham (1974)

This artwork is a room with mirrored walls, a video camera and a screen below the camera. The mirrors reflect present time, and the video camera tapes what is immediately in front of it and the entire reflection on the opposite mirrored wall.

The screen plays the recordings 8 seconds later, and if you can see the reflection of the screen in the mirror, it will be playing what happened 8 seconds before that. This mechanism produces the artwork’s perpetual effect.

Characteristics

1) Interactive – the audience completes the artwork by entering the room and appearing on the screen
2) Captures multiple perspectives, unlike paintings which are still images
3) Time-space distortion created by the time lag: time as a dimension that can be experienced in space

Concept and meaning

The time-lag creates this effect of self-consciousness. When one enters the room, one will react automatically to the mirrors – adjusting appearances and so on. However, the time-lag means that looking in the camera will only show 8 seconds later, and the inability to react automatically allows us to see ourselves in a natural state, or as how others would perceive us to be. This impression is something we rarely see and it makes the viewer self-conscious because he now knows how others perceive him (only in the physical sense).

In the artist statement, Graham writes that the artwork is about exploring other ways of seeing yourself and learning about yourself.

Perception:

Perception usually takes place in the present. We are thus are not in the position of perceiving things past or future. Graham constructs a space that makes the phenomenon of constantly continuing presence available to experience by visualizing temporal distance in space.

**In the early phases of video art, people were more concerned with the possibilities of video in aesthetics and communications technology, and not really the confrontation with the individual experiences of perception.

Advantages

1) Includes the viewer in the artwork, and every viewer that enters the room has his/her own experience. This makes the artwork unique to each and every viewer, because no one will experience the exact same feelings. While some feel self-conscious, others may be fascinated and find it plain fun.

Advantages of video art in general

2) Easily duplicated and reproduced – can be broadcasted and is available to a large audience.

3) Constantly changing images offer a new dimension, and it is now possible for artists to show things literally from their point of view.

4) Can help to capture certain qualities that painting and sculpture cannot e..g light

5) Ability to manipulate time (distorting time by making it faster/slower), perspective and colors, and add in special effects.

Disadvantages

1) Because of its technological proximity with television, it was also commonly seen as an intersection between art and entertainment/ commercial mass communication. Hence, messages were not brought across clearly sometimes.

2) Some people regard it as technically less difficult and hence not as good as painting or sculpting. A blurring of boundaries between high art and commercial mass culture.

 

BY: Sean Jonat Yong Xin

 

Charisse

1. motivations for creating an illusion of reality

    • surrealistic, symbolist paintings: uses realistic representation combined with unconventional juxtaposition.  à goes beyond copying photographs, instead creating imaginary, intense and impossible scenes and where objects are vested with symbolic meaning
    • “I paint realism not to portray something that represents this reality; rather, I paint from the construction that I have established.”
    • artwork: Labyrinth (1987-88) – cardboard labyrinth depicts urban life as overwhelming and chaotic. The complex, never-ending maze highlights the vulnerability and helplessness of the lone figure.

 2. motivations behind realistic representation

    • social realism: elevates the everyday to art, dramatising it through photorealistic painting
    • “There are many aspects of the city life in Jakarta that are so interesting to be portrayed; but it is the struggle of the urbanites that invariably brings me to paint. Painting these urban people, the beggars, the sweepers, the roadside vendors, the rag pickers, the garbage, and the used cardboards is probably unappealing. The challenge is to make them appealing and “betraying messages.””
    • Artwork: Yellow Troops (1993) 
    • an idealist painter: paintings must have beauty & content (composition, technical skill in realistic painting à social/symbolist messages)
  1. advantages of realistic representation
    • attractive, accessible
    • realistic representation of contemporary subject matter allows direct expression of social commentary – eg. What is Left, A Panorama (1997)
    • realistic representation invests human figures with great expressiveness, creating empathy – eg. The Urbanites (1981)
    • realistic representation combines both surrealism and social realism

Other notes: He was born in Jakarta on January 29, 1956.

Common themes in his work:

  • Population & living environment
  • Terrorizing products
  • Peace & war
  • Industrial pollution
  • Human Rights
  • Urbanization of his hometown, Jakarta.

 

Liu Kang

Charisse, Crystal, Jin Ni

(above) Liu Kang, Adjusting The Waistband (1997)

(above) Matisse, Odalisque in Red Trousers (1921) and The Dance (1909)

SIMILARITIES

- subject matter: females/female nudes in classical reclining posture

- style: use of decorative patterns in wallpaper and clothes

- style: flat light/dark tones used to depict volume instead of 3D modelling; simplified facial features

- style: no use of single-point linear perspective to create illusion of depth; space is rather flat

- style: use of coloured curvilinear outlines to define figures

DIFFERENCES

- subject matter: Liu Kang’s subject mater is distinctively Balinese, from the figures to the event depicted and even the patterns on cloth. Details specific to Balinese culture (Wayang Kulit, Balinese batik prints) reflect the richness and diversity of SEA imagery

(above) Liu Kang (title?)

(above) Matisse, Le bonheur de vivre or The Joy of Life (1905-1906)

SIMILARITIES

- relaxed atmosphere, harmonious landscape, bright colours

- prominent use of outlines to define figures (Liu Kang uses more straight lines while Matisse uses strong curves)

- flat colours (for both figures and ground), reduction/simplification of faces, figures, clouds, trees

DIFFERENCES

- subject matter: Matisse depicts numerous nude women lounging in the grass and dancing on the beach, in contrast to Liu Kang’s depiction of the daily lifestyle of SEA women. Liu Kang’s work is recognisably set in the Southeast Asian historical/cultural context, in contrast to the universal, timeless quality of Matisse’s nudes.